After weeks of inconsistency Real Madrid found their form again to defeat Sevilla this weekend and take a big step towards their 31st La Liga title. Barcelona, however, threw away a two-goal lead at Betis which sees them slip back to seven points behind Madrid and allowed Villarreal to move above them into second place after a fine 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid needed a victory like this after all the recent problems. Bernd Schuster left Robinho, Baptista and Diarra on the bench, and gave another chance to 20-year-old Gonzalo Higuain in attack. The game started well for Madrid and they took the lead after just seven minutes when Sneijder delivered a perfect cross for Heinze to head past Palop. Cannavaro who was in an offside position was deemed not to be interfering with play.
Sevilla couldn’t get into the match until coach Jiminez rectified a decision to leave out Jesus Navas, by bringing him on as a first half substitute and moving dani Alves back to his more natural right back decision. Four minutes after the decision Sevilla equalized when Keita’s header found Kanoute whose low shot beat Casillas from close range. Madrid reacted swiftly, Sneijder sent another ball into the area which Raul controlled on his thigh before swivelling to find just enough space to shoot left footed past Palop for his 290th goal for Madrid. Raul is now just seventeen goals short of Alfredo Di Stefano’s 307 goals record.
The second half produced some more great football from Madrid and Higuain might have scored a handful but for the fine performance from Palop. Eventually, however, the excellent Sneijder sent Guti racing down the right and he played a great cross with the outside of his left foot into the path of Higuain who this time couldn’t miss. With eight games to go Madrid have the finishing line within their sights, but after such an up-and-down season there is still time for a few more surprises.
Barcelona will only have themselves to blame if Madrid do win the title. Having been given so many chances to get back in the fight they once again messed up horribly this weekend. After just fifteen minutes they had coasted into a 0-2 lead at Betis through Bojan and Eto’o, and looked to be on the way to a comfortable win. However, after the two goals they only played to keep possession instead of trying to kill Betis off. As soon as Betis pulled a goal back after Edu headed in Sobis’s cross Barça were panicked into defending too deeply and Betis seized their chance. Despite Valdes saving a penalty in the 75th minute Betis stunned culés with two quick goals from Juanito and Edu again. Barça failed to react and now find themselves in a full blown crisis going into Tuesday’s Champions League game with Schalke 04. Click here for a full report on Betis-Barça and 117 comments from angry culés.
Villarreal took full advantage of Barça’s disaster to move above the Catalans with a sublime 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid. Villarreal defenders Gonzalo Rodriguez and Godin dealt perfectly with Kun Agüero and Forlan, while Pires and Cazorla set about creating the chances. Cazorla himself scored the opener on 37 minutes after Perea failed to clear. Then just before half time Rossi crossed for Nihat to score the second. In the second half Cazorla found Nihat who finished the job with his 14th goal of the season. Villarreal are the team in form and with just six points separating them from Madrid are still in with a chance of causing an almighty upset.
With Sevilla and Atletico losing, Racing Santander did their European hopes no harm whatsoever with a thumping 0-3 win over a tired looking Espanyol. Two goals in the first 25 minutes from Serrano and Munitis left Espanyol without ideas to come back against a well ordered and disciplined Racing. In the last minute of the game Bolado put the icing on the cake with a classy goal shooting with his right foot behind his left leg.
Almeria moved up to eighth place with a comfortable 2-1 victory over bottom of the table Levante. Fernando Soriano gave Almeria the lead after just two minutes and then before half time Felipe Melo added a second. Levante had to wait until the 90th minute for a consolation goal but it was too little too late. Levante will now need an authentic miracle if they are going to avoid the drop.
After beating Madrid and Barça in the space of a week, Valencia proved they still have enormous problems when they lost 0-3 at home to Mallorca. The excellent Dani Güiza scored the first after 12 minutes after getting the better of Caneira, then Ivan Ramis made it two with a free kick on twenty minutes. Güiza got his second and Mallorca’s third with a header from Ibagaza’s cross in the second half. Valencia have now conceded 28 goals in their stadium in the league this season, which is more than ever in their history.
Zaragoza are another team with serious problems after losing 2-1 in a relegation six-pointer at Valladolid. Zapater gave the visitors the lead after 28 minutes, but second half goals from Victor, from the penalty spot, and Llorente turned the game in favour of Valladolid. To add to Zaragoza’s problems Juanfran got a straight red card in the last minute for kicking Capdevila who was wasting time by the corner flag.
Murcia are also in deep deep trouble after their 3-1 loss at Deportivo. Murcia’s hopes were raised when De Lucas gave them the lead after just two minutes, but three goals from Xisco leave Murcia staring relegation in the face.
Recreativo are also in desperate need of points, and they will not be happy at only gaining one in the 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao. An Amorebieta own goal gave Recre the lead after 14 minutes and they held on until the 81st minute when Aduriz broke their hearts with Athletic’s equalizer. Bouzon showed Recre’s frustration by getting sent off in injury time.
Finally, Osasuna somewhat eased their relegation worries with a 0-2 win over Michael Laudrup’s Getafe. Osasuna made the most of Getafe’s Contra being sent off after 30 minutes, and goals from Miguel Flaño and a Puñal penalty earned them the three points.
Top Six: Real Madrid 65, Villarreal 59, Barcelona 58, Atletico Madrid 50, Racing Santander 50, Sevilla 45.
Bottom Six: Deportivo 37, Valladolid 35, Zaragoza 33, Recreativo 33, Murcia 26, Levante 19.
Top Scorers: Luis Fabiano 22, Güiza 17, Raul 16, Diego Milito 15 Nihat 14.